Wildbird Recovery, part of Stormy Oaks Nature Conservancy, is an incredible non-profit dedicated to education and rehabilitation.
One of their classes was suggested to me by a friend last year while homeschooling and I was surprised to see it located so close to us as I had never heard of them. On the first day, it was an instant connection with the property and Executive director, Melissa. Organizations I have come across in the past tend to either care about animals or people. Stormy Oaks Nature Conservancy cares about both; informing the public in order to create symbiosis with nature. I knew I needed to feature them and spread the word about their mission.
Located on 14 picturesque acres in Butler County, the Stormy Oaks property has been in the family for generations. Beth, owner and founder, has always had a connection to birds. She fondly remembers a childhood rooster named Clarence who enjoyed her snuggles but disdained all others. In 1988, Beth rescued a cockatoo named Boo, and in ‘95 a nest of Barn Swallows. Those experiences opened her eyes to the extreme lack of resources for birds in Western Pennsylvania. The process for becoming a rehabilitator is long and complex. Multiple approvals are required to move forward, including letters from Game Commission, veterinarians, and other wildlife programs. Certifications at both state and federal level are required and need to be updated on a regular basis. However, there is no state or federal funding allocated for rehabilitators and must be obtained through donations.
When I arrived for the interview, Beth said she would be right with me. Tragically, not all intakes survive. The ones that don’t still receive respect and honor, even in death. She was in the process of sending the bodies to Sia: The Comanche Nation Etno-Ornithological Initiative, who preform ceremonies honoring the birds. (More information on their organization is linked)
While I waited, I chatted with Alexis, another valuable member of the team. She has a passion for wildlife and education, as illustrated by an extensive background in science and animal rehab. She has taught numerous programs for children and adults, and wears many hats at Wildbird including the less idyllic behind the scenes tasks. Stormy Oaks has her heart. She stated “The property is magical. It’s such a great team. They encompass a deeper spiritual connection to the animals. Everything is interconnected.”
In many of her educational programs (including the Pittsburgh Renaissance Festival), she incorporates a three year old Red-Tailed Hawk named Ash. A wing injury prevents his release, and he is incredibly adaptable to a variety of surroundings with the help of Alexis. There was a truly special moment where I got too close with the camera and he looked at Alexis for affirmation that the situation was under control and I was a safe person. It was beautiful to see the intimacy of their connection.
Beth’s daughter Melissa chatted with me next. She, like Alexis, is deeply involved in the education aspect of Stormy Oaks and every other part of the organization. Her four children are delightful and can spout off a wealth of information on birds. It’s wonderful seeing the legacy continue. Melissa is truly a kindred spirit to whom I could talk for hours. Her youngest daughter joined us behind the scenes to help out. One Pigeon protested loudly when parted from his best friend and returned to the aviary. It’s so awesome seeing kids raised from a young age to love and respect animals.
My favorite bird at the Nature Conservency is Kele, a 14 year old Barred Owl. At just a week old, a Scout leader saw him at the base of a tree and called in. Kele was in bad shape. He had maggots in his ears, a crooked beak, and nerve damage to his shoulder. He is deeply bonded with Beth, and has been used in upwards of 200 educational programs over the years.
Wildbird Recovery is permitted to care for Passerines (Songbirds, Swifts, and Swallows) and Raptors (birds of prey). One area of expertise is the rescue of Chimney Swift hatchlings. The swifts differ from other birds in their inability to feed themselves until released. So for the first month of life they require round the clock, half-hour feedings. The organization goes through 10,000 meal worms daily while hand-feeding swifts during peak season (April to October). Not a cheap or easy endeavor, but done with loving and expert hands.
Wildbird Recovery is all about connections. To the animals. To the community. Sharing a wealth of knowledge with the public and other rehabilitators. Partnering with other organizations to further the multifaceted goal of conservation.
So how can you get involved? Partner with Stormy Oaks and Wildbird Recovery by sharing this message. Get it out there so people know about the beauty and sacrifice of this organization and their mission. Check out classes and offerings on their website. Volunteer. DONATE!
And remember, conservation is all about respect. What are small steps we can take to respect nature and create a yard/environment beneficial to native species? It doesn’t have to be big or expensive. Keep cats indoors, incorporate native species into your landscape, don’t spray your yard with chemicals… the possibilities are endless. Each small step you make creates waves and a bigger impact. It’s all about changing your mindset. And always KEEP LEARNING!